The lure of yellow diamonds

For centuries prized diamonds have either been pure white or deeply colored blue, red, pink, or green or yellow. Pale yellow diamonds have been seen mainly as inferior white diamonds. While yellow diamonds can be manufactured and thus are much more affordable, naturally-occurring yellow diamonds are rare and much more prized. 

Diamonds are formed from carbon that is melted and pressurized in the earth’s crust over millions of years until the carbon is restructured into diamond crystals. Impurities such as nitrogen, boron and hydrogen can change the color from clear to yellow or brown, blue or green. Yellow diamonds range from a pale delicate yellow to a pure rich canary or sunflower yellow. Yellow diamonds may also have secondary shades, primarily orange or brownish, which affect the clarity of the color. Greenish or pinkish secondary shades are extremely rare and extremely valuable. Yellow diamonds are found all over the world, but the largest and most intense are found primarily in South Africa. Light to vivid yellow diamonds are found in Angola, Borneo, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, the United States (Arkansas) and throughout the African continent.

Grading and Cutting

Diamonds are graded using a rating scale of color, clarity, carat (size) and cut, also known as the four Cs. Yellow diamonds are graded similarly to white diamonds, with the exception of color and cut. Unlike white diamonds, which are prized on the lack of color, yellow diamonds are graded for clarity of color. Once a white diamond is graded past the Z level (the stone has a color in the correct light), the diamond is graded on the fancy color scale. Diamonds with higher color grades are more prized for their rarity than lower color grades. Grades range from Fancy Light Yellow (a definite delicate yellow color) to Fancy Vivid Yellow (a vibrant pure yellow, almost canary yellow). Fancy Vivid Yellow grades are extremely rare. The secondary shades are also graded; brownish shades are not as highly graded, and green or pink shades are graded extremely highly.

Colored diamonds are cut differently from white diamonds. White diamonds are cut to accentuate the brilliance of the stone and reflect the light most brilliantly. Colored diamonds are cut to accentuate the color and clarity of the stone, and are cut so that the color saturation is emphasized, and the size and brilliance are secondary. For this reason, the best shapes for yellow diamonds are Radiant, Emerald, Cushion, Oval Brilliant, and Pear Brilliant. Descriptions of the cuts can be found at the Natural Color Diamond Association website.

Famous Yellow Diamonds

Famous yellow diamonds include the following:

  • The Red Cross is a vivid 205.07-carat canary diamond with a Maltese cross visible on the top facet.
  • The Incomparable is a 407.48-carat deep brownish-yellow diamond, internally flawless and the third-largest diamond in the world.
  • The Eureka is a 10.7-carat pale yellow diamond, the first diamond to be authenticated in Africa.
  • The Florentine Diamond is an almost 140-carat light yellow with green undertone diamond that belonged to the Medicis, one of the most powerful families in Europe. In 1743, it was in the hands of the Hapsburgs, and Emperor Francis I wore the Florentine in his crown. In 1918, following the fall of the Hapsburgs, the stone followed the family to exile in Switzerland and vanished. 
  • The TiffanyYellow Diamond is a 287.42-carat (at discovery) fancy yellow diamond and one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered. It was cut to 128.54 carats in a cushion shape with 90 facets to bring out the brilliance of the stone. This diamond has been worn by only two people, most famously by Audrey Hepburn in the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
  • The Diamond Shah is an 88.7-carat clear yellow diamond that was found in Central India in 1450. This diamond over its history has three inscriptions carved on its facets. The first inscription was carved in 1591 and reads “Burhan-Nizam-Shah Second. Year 1000.” In 1641, after it changed hands, the second inscription was carved: “The son of Jehangir-Shah Jehan-Shah. Year 1051,” In 1824, after the diamond was seized by Persia, the third inscription was carved: “The ruler of the Kadgar-Fath ali-shah Sultan. Year 1242.” The Diamond Shah is now in the Kremlin Diamond Fund.
  • The Moon of Baroda is a 24-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond worn by Marilyn Monroe to the opening of the movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The diamond had been owned by the Maharajas of Baroda for almost 500 years before passing into the hands of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
  • The Akbar Shah is a 116-carat random-faceted pear-shaped yellow diamond that was reputed to be part of the original Peacock Throne. The diamond had two Arabic inscriptions: the first was “Shah Akbar, the Shah of the World, 1028 A.H.,” and the second was “To the Lord of Two Worlds, 1039 A.H. Shah Jehan.” The inscriptions were destroyed in 1886 when it was recut to 71.70 carats, and the stone’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
  • The Kimberly Octahedral is a 616-carat uncut yellow diamond and the fifteenth-largest diamond in the world. Because of the size and color, this diamond is kept in its natural octahedral state.
  • The Deepdene is a 104.52-carat yellow diamond and the largest irradiated diamond in the world. The diamond had been irradiated sometime between 1955 and 1971, no doubt to create a yellow diamond, and was examined at auction in 1971. Its whereabouts are now unknown.
  • The Golden Jubilee is a 545.67-carat fancy yellow-brown diamond and the largest faceted diamond in the world.
  • The Sancy is a 55.23-carat pale yellow diamond with a tumultuous history. First purchased in 1570, it was borrowed by Henry III to decorate his cap, and Henry IV of France to finance his army. When the diamond failed to arrive, the owner De Sancy investigated, and found the body of the messenger who was carrying it. The faithful messenger had swallowed the diamond rather than allow it to be taken from him. The diamond passed from French to English and back to French hands, and finally ended up with the Astors. The Astors sold it to the Louvre, where it is today.

These diamonds have become very popular, and celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Heidi Klum, Dennis Quaid, Rodney Jenkins, Beyonce Knowles and Penelope Cruz have been sporting the beautiful gems.